A Cobb County jury took just 20 minutes late Thursday to convict Melvin George Hood, 54, of aggravated battery and aggravated assault charges. Hood was among homeless people who lived in a camp off Noonday Church Road in Kennesaw when, about 5:30 a.m. last August 21, he got mad at his best friend, Raymond Mathews, and his former girlfriend, Wanda Kight. He then poured gasoline directly on Mathews and onto Kight’s tent, lighting both on fire.
The victims testified during the trial, which began with jury selection on Monday, about the fire that almost ended their lives. Mathews spent nearly two months in a medically-induced coma. Kight was trapped inside the tent and was rescued by another camp resident.
“The defendant almost killed these two people, for no reason. Because he was drunk and he was mad. It is inexcusable,” Assistant District Attorney Molly Gillis told jurors.
She acknowledged that the residents of the camp “live a different lifestyle than many people.”
“But,” Gillis said, “You cannot commit aggravated battery and aggravated assault, and expect to get away with it because you live a different lifestyle.” She asked the jurors to protect the victims and to hold Hood accountable for his heinous crime.
Hood contended he was working on a generator at the time and that it blew up, causing the fire. The generator – undamaged -- was found nearly fifty yards from the fire. The area where the tent had been, meanwhile, was obliterated. Eyewitnesses also testified that the fire occurred when Hood went near the tent after retrieving a can of gasoline.
Cobb Superior Court Judge C. LaTain Kell has sentenced Hood to 40 years, with 30 years to serve in custody. He was sentenced as a recidivist, meaning he is not eligible for parole.
But Judge Kell first thanked the victims, Mathews and Kight, for their courage and dignity.
“It sounds like, despite your circumstances, you had made a decent life for yourselves, and I admire you for that,” Judge Kell said. “Life was hard for you already, and it’s harder now. … You did not deserve this.”The case was investigated by the Cobb County Police and the Cobb County Fire departments.